The nationwide group of authors who write for the Eat Local Challenge blog, along with many other Eat Local advocates around the country will be taking a unique challenge during one week in April: Can we eat local foods within the budget of an average American?

We invite you to participate in this challenge, dubbed the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge, either by taking up the challenge yourself, or by reading along on the Eat Local Challenge site at the end of this month.

As editor of the Eat Local Challenge site, the issue of budget and the cost of eating locally is the complaint that I have heard most often. So, beginning April 23, we are going to set out on a real-life experiment to see how much it actually costs to eat locally. I don’t know what the results will be, but I am excited to find out.

What’s the budget, you ask?

The Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics puts out some very detailed statistics about how much Americans spend on different parts of their budget. Part of that, obviously, focuses on food. The most recent data that they have published is from 2005, so we are going to use those dollar amounts for our challenge.

1 person in the family, one wage earner: $68 a week
2+ persons in the family, one wage earner: $121 a week
2+ persons in the family, 2 wage earners: $144 a week
2+ persons in the family, 3+ wage earners: $184 a week

I find the breakdown of how we divide that budget to be fascinating. Of the total 44% of the budget is spent on food away from home, and 56% of the budget is spent on food at home.

Of the 56% of the food budget spent at home, you can see the breakdown in the graph below. Given what’s available locally in the San Francisco area, I would expect my budget graph during the Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge to be skewed much less toward Cereals & Bakery Products and Other, and much more toward Fruits & Vegetables and Meats, Poultry and Eggs.

The Bay Area is the perfect place to try eating locally. While the rest of the country is really going to be struggling to eat local during this challenge, San Franciscans can look forward to seasonal produce such as fava beans, spring peas, more green garlic, spring greens, radishes, and the continuation of asparagus season. In the meat and protein area we will have spring lamb, local sardines, and possibly local halibut in addition to our local beef, chicken, and pork.

If you’ve never taken an Eat Local Challenge and find this one to be a bit daunting due to time of the year or the budget restrictions, you can participate in our September 2007 main challenge.

Links for more information:

The Penny-Wise Eat Local Challenge announcement.
Nuts and Bolts of participating in the challenge.
What We Spend on What We Eat.
Find what’s in season in the Bay Area with the Local Foods Wheel.
Find what’s local to your area with

Eating Locally on a Budget 3 April,2007Jennifer Maiser

  • Almost Vegetarian

    Absolutely fascinating idea. But, perhaps more important, is how well you eat on a diget. Can you afford fresh fruit and vegetables? How about organic? Artisinal bread or white bread? And so on. After all, the point is not just to eat, but to eat healthy, nutritious foods. Cheers.


Jennifer Maiser

“My passion for food began young.”

I am the editor of the influential website which encourages readers to support local farmers and producers.

I began my personal website, Life Begins at 30, in 2003.

I have been published in Edible San Francisco and Fine Cooking, write regularly for Bay Area Bites, Serious Eats, and have been quoted in many nationwide publications. Photography is a passion, and I have had photos printed in National Geographic Traveler and Travel + Leisure.

I contributed to a Williams-Sonoma cookbook: Cooking from the Farmers’ Market, which was released in February 2010.

I live in San Francisco, California and can often be found at local farmers markets seeking out the best of what’s in season and chatting with farmers.

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